I was on a job recently where I had to completely rework the entry door install on a house. It was difficult to tell from a distance, but the original work had been poorly done (and that might be an understatement!). All of the errors made in that original installation became more and more apparent once I started disassembling the install in order to right the wrongs. Sometimes you have to peel back more than the skin to see how rotten the fruit is at the core. And then you need to take a strategic approach to help that core heal.
The original rotten door entry (Note: Click any image to enlarge)
Peeling the Layers
We started by removing the side casings. This is where we encountered our first issue.
Removing the casings revealed improper weather barrier installation—no flashing was applied (see photos below). On top of that, one of the sides was missing a section of housewrap, leading to rotten sheathing. There was also rot at the bottom corner of the opening.
Of course, if flashing had been incorporated with the housewrap, these problems could have been prevented.
When I removed the pediment, I found that there was another section of housewrap missing; fortunately the damage was superficial and minor.
One of my biggest issues at this point was that the door riser was sealed to the concrete landing. Whenever I see this (and I often do), I always expect to see some rot. I never know how much.
In this case, by sealing the bottom, water had become trapped behind the trim, causing damage to the sheathing and to the rim joist, which was badly rotted.
When I removed the casings I had noticed the bottom corners were bulging out about one inch. After removing the riser, along with the rubber flashing, I found that someone had attempted a repair, but they only made matters worse! They had applied a 1-in. thick insulation board to the structure, further trapping water at the corners.
I also discovered that when they removed the existing riser, they filled in the rotten sheathing with foam insulation, trapping even more water against the rim joist!
My next step was to remove the door unit. I had to pry off the rubber flashing from the top of the bottom opening.
After closely examining the bottom of the door opening, I found that they had added a piece of 3/4-in. plywood over the sub floor in order to raise the door. At this point, I just removed the rotten piece.
I poked at the rim joist when I removed the sheathing and found that it also had to be replaced.
I then removed some more sheathing on both sides in order to cut the rim joist at a solid section.
To remove the damaged section, I cut both ends and removed all the nails securing it. In order to remove the rim joist, which was pinned behind the stoop, I snapped off half of the board’s width. The other half was behind the stoop, so I ran a sawzall behind the board to cut all the nails.
The board then slid out very easily (boy, don’t you just love that!?).
I should mention that it’s always a good idea to clean up after every phase of the job. Cleaning as you work will help you get better results, and it’ll improve your mood, too—working with rotten wood isn’t exactly fun, but keeping the site clean and organized sure helps.
And Now for the Real Job
I began by taking three measurements for my width (middle and both ends), and I went with the smallest one just to be sure the joist would fit.
Then I measured for my length, and cut the joist about an eighth smaller. Doing this allowed me to slide in the rim joist very easily.
I ripped down and cut to length a piece of pressure-treated lumber. I always seal any fresh cuts with a good wood preservative before installing a rim joist.
After tapping in the rim joist, and securing it to the floor joists, I added metal plates to tie the repaired section to the existing rim joist. Since the stoop was placed up against the rim joist, I also added a piece of self-adhesive flashing to protect the structure. This important detail was previously missing, and it contributed to the water damage.
Installing self-adhesive flashing helps prevent any further rot to the rim joist. I was sure to leave a space of about 1/4 in. between the stoop and rim joist to allow for future drainage.
As a side note, I always make sure to keep my long projects weather-tight and secure, no matter what the forecast says! You don’t want to have any issues that could force you to pay for damages. Trust me.
I ran continuous beads of exterior-grade adhesive to the rim joist and studs.
I then installed new, 1/2-in. sheathing, which I cut to fit around the stoop. I left about 1/4 in. of a gap so that the sheathing wouldn’t rot, and to allow for proper drainage.
I also added 1/2-in. sheathing to the jambs to act as spacers.
I applied self-adhesive flashings in order to make the door opening watertight.
I started with the sill, and followed by adding corner flashings to each corner—these are called “bow ties” (see photo, right).
Then I installed both sides, repeating the same process at the top of the opening with more bow ties.
Instead of installing the unit into the opening and fussing with wood shims, I opted for a different approach. This different way made it easier, faster, and allowed me to work alone. I used deck screws as shims on each side to make my unit dead-plumb with no fussing.
First, I marked the location of the hinges onto the rough opening, and I marked the location of the top and bottom of the unit. Starting from the sill on the opening, I marked a center line in the middle, and then measured half the distance both ways to the outside dimension (O.D.) of the jamb—that’s where I’d start installing “shim screws”. I installed a pair of “shim screws” at each location, keeping them flat and spaced enough to catch the jamb’s width.
I began the shimming process from the bottom. I measured up 1 in. from the bottom location on the jamb, and I installed a pair of screws. To know how deep to set the screws, I set my speed square flat on the sill and held it on the mark I’d made for the O.D. of the jamb. I adjusted the screws until they touched the square. I prefer to use a screw gun rather than an impact—screw guns make it easier to set the screws. Once the bottom screws were set, I installed the next set of screws plumb to the bottom screws using a 2-ft. level. I continued in this manner up the jamb, using each previous set of screws as a starting point. Once I reached the top, I added a set of screws one inch below the top of the door unit.
When I completed the jamb side, I transferred all the screw locations to the other side and pre-set those screws. Then, I cut a board to the exact dimension of the door unit. Using this board as a guide, I set the screws across from each other to fit the board. The opening was then ready to receive the door unit.
Re-installing the Entry Door
I always like to try to fit the door into the opening, just so I can be sure it fits before I lay beads of caulking on the sill and secure the unit.
In this case, the door fit perfectly. But at that point, I realized that I didn’t pre-drill holes into the jambs to secure the door! I made sure not to hit the shim screws. I then pre-set all the screws.
I ran two beads of sealant to the sill. This would help prevent water and drafts from entering. It would also help to stop any squeaks between the threshold and sill.
Installing a single door unit is a one-person job, but having one with sidelites requires an extra pair of hands. We dropped the unit into the opening, making sure the sill and fresh beads of caulking made a good seal. Then we tilted the unit into place.
Before securing the unit, we used a level to check for plumb, and we also made sure the unit was plumb off the house. This last part is very important so that the door doesn’t swing in either direction by itself.
I pre-assemble all my exterior trim, and I do it right on the jobsite. I use a small portable DeWalt table saw to rip the casing to width, so it will fit perfectly between the jamb and the siding.
I leave the casing legs long so I can use them as a story pole to lay out the entablature details—that includes the astragral molding, the frieze, and the crown.
On this job, I wanted to match the fluting to the original casing, so I laid out the flutes using a Trim Gauge. I like this tool a lot. It rides smoothly on the edge of a board, and it’s easy to adjust for different reveals.
To stop all the flutes so the tops are perfectly straight, I attach a temporary stop to the casing leg. This is a pretty fool-proof system, and it’s fast.
With the sled set up and stops on both pieces of casing, I can run four flutes, one on each leg, for both the inside and the outside flutes, then adjust the sled to cut the inside flutes.
I pocket screw the legs to the frieze, and glue that joint, too.
Then I install the astragal moldings, which I also pre-assemble so that the miters are tight. The weather can be brutal where I live, deep freezing in the winter and high humidity in the summer, so I use PVC trim whenever possible—that way I never have to worry about coming back to a job for repairs. PVC isn’t affected by moisture content, only temperature. And with PVC cement, the miters are joined molecularly. I never have to caulk anything.
And another thing about PVC trim: I can sandwich endless pieces on top of each other without worrying about moisture getting trapped between the pieces and causing rot—after all, that’s why the people hired me in the first place, to fix the rot!
I build up the frieze from two boards, then wrap the crown molding around the top board so it terminates against the backboard, which makes it easy to butt into the existing siding. Just like the astragal molding, I start by cutting the miters and dry-fitting the pieces, then I pre-assemble the miters before attaching the crown.
After securing the door unit into the opening, it was time to apply the outer layer of wall flashing.
We started from the bottom and worked our way up to the top, overlapping each piece by six inches. In order to prevent moisture from entering behind the siding, we needed to seal the wall flashing to the housewrap.
This is where most leaks start, and they can create serious rot due to improper sealing of the housewrap to the wall flashing. I applied the wall flashing to the door jamb, about 1/2 in. in from the edge of the jamb, leaving more than a 1/4-in. reveal. The back of the flashing lapped over the housewrap about 2 in.—this was to ensure that no moisture or water will enter the opening.
Since I pre-assembled my exterior trim as a unit, and made sure to measure correctly, installation was fast and accurate. Once we tilted the trim kit in place and checked the fit, it was ready to be fastened.
We secured the trim kit to the door and wall sheathing, making sure the head and side casings were plumb and level. I like to use screws rather than nails, because then I can be confident that the trim will stay secure, and that the joints will remain tight for years.
I installed a piece of flashing before adding the pre-assmbled plinth blocks. This flashing would help reduce any water from entering behind the stoop. I sealed the top edge of the flashing with housewrap tape, and left the bottom edge open for water to drain out.
Flashing the Head
I don’t own a brake, but sometimes I wish I did—especially for custom trim like the deep entablature above this door. I needed a piece of aluminum bent, and I wasn’t going to rent a brake for just one piece! So I decided to make a jig from a scrap piece of plywood, and I fastened that to my worktable.
I measured out two lines 90 degrees to each other for the lengths I needed. Each line’s measurement equaled the exact width of the piece of flashing. Using my jigsaw, and a very steady hand, I cut each line to its exact distance. If the cuts were off, I wouldn’t be able to make the piece I wanted. I had to be sure my cuts were perfect.
Once my cuts were done, I simply curled the piece of flashing, inserting one corner first, and slowly forming the piece into the jig until both outer edges of flashing—along with the inside edge—were in the jig about an inch. Then it was just a matter of pulling the piece of flashing through the jig, and forming the piece of flashing I needed.
I secured the flashing above the head using builder’s tape. I could have used another piece of Vycor, but I figured the housewrap would also cover the top leg of the flashing.
After the metal flashing was secured, I pulled the housewrap back down and trimmed it to fit. I then tied in the siding.
Before leaving, I caulked a few joints to be sure the door was complete and ready for the homeowner to paint (again).